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Kahuku gets revenge on Mililani in 2023 First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division Football state title
Kahuku gets revenge on Mililani in 2023 First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division Football state title
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED NOV 24, 2023
HONOLULU — Every great title bout needs a rematch.
Ali-Frazier in 1974 and again in ’75. The Celtics and Lakers in ’84 and ’85 with Bird and Magic. The Yankees and Dodgers repeating results in ’77 and ’78, too.
Heck, even the Rocky movies have sequels.
While it wasn’t a year in between matchups of the Kahuku Red Raiders and Mililani Trojans on the gridiron, it was an exciting matchup of the top two teams in the state of Hawai’i high school football that had hype building for it for three weeks after Millville ended the North Shore team’s win streak against Hawai’i opponents with a 28-21 win in the OIA Open Division championship on November 4 at Farrington High School. The win for the Trojans knocked Kahuku out of national top-10 Max Preps high school football rankings, plummeting the Red Raiders to 51st, one spot below Mililani.
The matchup certainly lived up to the billing.
Kahuku opened play with a surprise for all, drilling an onside kick into the ground and recovering at the Mililani 27 after a few precarious bounces saw the ball squirt away from multiple Trojans’ special teamers. The Red Raiders capitalized on the surprise a few plays later as Tuliele Tagovailoa-Amosa connected with Kache Kaio on 3rd & 16 for a 19-yard TD for the game’s opening score not even three minutes into the action. The ensuing PAT was bobbled on a bad snap and taken around the edge by Kaimana Carvalho for a two-point conversion to make it 8-0 in favor of the two-time defending state champions.
Mililani’s Davyn Joesph returned the following kickoff out to the Trojans’ 41, seemingly swinging the momentum back in favor of the OIA Open Division champions, at least momentarily. Mililani QB Kini McMillan delivered a strike on 3rd & 13 to extend the drive before finding Kanoa Ferreira streaking down the seam. It looked like Mililani would find the end zone on the play, but Kahuku’s Carvalho tracked down the speeding Ferreira, stripping the Trojans’ receiver just before paydirt to save six for the Red Raiders.
What looked like it would be a TD for Mililani after McMillian found a streaking Kanoa Ferreira up the seam ends w/a Trojans’ turnover - Kahuku’s Kaimana Carvalho forced the fumble.— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) November 25, 2023
8-0 in favor of the North Shore’s team with everything going right.@HIsportsradio @SportingTrib
Carvalho built on the forced fumble with a 30-yard catch-and-run to get Kahuku out of the shade of its own end zone before Mililani’s Elijah Nua popped the ball free on the next play for a Trojans’ takeaway inside the Red Raiders’ territory. It was Mililani’s turn to capitalize on great field position as McMillan took a QB keeper up the gut to get Millville on the board with 4:21 left in the 1st quarter. The two-point conversion was broken up by the Kahuku defense to keep the lead with the team in red, 8-6.
The tides began to turn in the wrong direction for Mililani from there as senior linebacker Kamaehu Roman was ejected for targeting after laying a vicious hit on Kahuku’s Carvalho, knocking the stud two-way player for the Red Raiders out for the game along with himself. Kahuku converted a 4th & 9 later in the drive to work inside the Mililani 15 before being stonewalled on 4th & 1 from the Mililani 2 for a turnover-on-downs. Kahuku’s defense would stand strong in response, forcing a 4th & 25 for the Trojans and seeing the ensuing punt get shanked out of bounds without crossing midfield.
The errors continued to stack up for Mililani as Aizik Mahuka joined his fellow senior linebacker Roman as a member of the “disqualified for targeting” club in the state title game, giving Kahuku the 1st down within the Trojans’ 10. It looked as though the Mililani defense had come up with a stop after Kahuku’s 22-yard field goal sailed wide, but a roughing the kicker penalty awarded a fresh set of downs to the North Shore representatives.
The Red Raiders wouldn’t let that chance go by as Tagovailoa-Amosa took it in from a yard out to extend the lead to 15-6 with 93 seconds left before the halftime break and forced McMillan and company to go three-and-out to end the half with the same score and the kickoff coming Kahuku’s way to begin the third.
The teams traded ugly possessions out of halftime as Kahuku punted on the opening drive, McMillan was picked off in the end zone on an excellent defensive effort by Manulele “Kingsley” Ah You for a touchback before the Red Raiders gave the ball right back with a botched hand-off between Tagovailoa-Amosa and Sheldon Kanoa hitting the turf for another Mililani takeaway.
This time, the Trojans took advantage of Kahuku mental miscues to make it a one-score game once again as Nakoa Kahana-Travis took a direct snap from a yard out and dove across the plane for Mililani’s second TD of the night. The PAT was blocked by Kahuku, keeping the lead at three points for the Red Raiders through three quarters, 15-12.
Kahuku’s next drive saw success until the Mililani 40, being forced to punt it back to McMillan and the Trojans’ offense with 10 and a half minutes left in the 2023 First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division football championship.
It took the junior QB and Mililani less than a minute to take their first lead of the night after the punt as McMillan delivered a perfect ball in stride to Joseph for an 89-yard catch-and-run score with 9:41 left in regulation.
Trojans’ turn!— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) November 25, 2023
Kini McMillan connects with Davyn Joseph for an 89-yard TD pass to give Mililani the lead with 9:41 left in the 4th.
Mililani’s fans & sideline goes nuts w/ their 1st lead of the game. The PAT is good, 19-15 favoring of the Trojans.@HIsportsradio @SportingTrib pic.twitter.com/wTgxXyJGuD
It looked like it would be a Trojans’ triumph as well after Mililani’s defense forced a Kahuku punt after jumping in front and McMillan scrambled on 3rd & 10 for a 25-yard gain to continue draining the clock with a two-point lead, but Kahuku’s defense had different plans.
The Red Raiders did not allow Mililani to go any further than midfield, forcing a punt with just over three minutes left and in need of a score without perhaps the team’s most dynamic playmaker in Carvalho.
So, of course, Diezel Kamoku did it himself.
The senior took the punt 86 yards to the house to reclaim the lead for the Kahuku, 21-19, with 2:59 left in the game.
The Red Raiders’ impressive special teams unit had one last trick up their sleeves as well, recovering a squib kick after re-taking the lead inside Mililani territory to keep the dangerous McMillan, KHON2’s Marcus Mariota award winner, off the field and without a chance to reclaim the lead.
Mililani had one last chance for a stop to get the offense back on the field before the clock hit triple-zeroes, but Tagovailoa-Amosa found Diezel Kamoku on 4th & 5 to ice the game and run out the clock, securing the state title and the first time in Kahuku football history that the Red Raiders have won back-to-back-to-back state championships on the gridiron.
McMillan finished the night completing 16-of-27 passes for 264 yards, two total TDs (1 pass, 1 rush) and one interception, not getting a chance to get back on the field to re-take the lead after the punt return TD from Kamoku. McMillan also led the Trojans in rushing, collecting 75 yards on the ground across 13 carries in the loss.
Kahuku’s Tagovailoa-Amosa did what he needed to do, completing 13-of-19 passes for 132 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers, adding an extra 26 yards rushing for good measure. Kamoku led the Red Raiders with 68 receiving yards across six catches along with his punt return touchdown to help play hero for the Big Red Monsters of the North Shore.
Kahuku’s head coach Sterling Carvalho joins elite company as just the seventh coach in Hawai’i high school football history to secure three or more HHSAA state championships, joining Wendell Look of Iolani (9), Cal Lee of Saint Louis (5), Garrett Tihada and Robert Watson of Maui’s Lahainaluna (4) and Kahuku’s own Reggie Torres (3) and Siuaki Livai (4) as the only coaches to accomplish the feat. Mililani’s Rod York was also looking to join the club, sitting with two state titles on his resume.
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